The Sensational Shock of the Crisis on Arjuna

Arjuna is not pictured to us as a profound philosophical thinker. If anything, he is the man of action, the warrior upholding the principles and the values that have been inculcated in him. He comes to the battlefield with a long list of grievances and pent up emotions regarding the bad way he and his brothers and wife Draupadi have been treated over a number of years. There is no doubt in his mind at that moment that their cause is just, righteous and worth fighting for. He is highly skilled and proficient in his ability to fight and win the battle, and he is looked to as the leading warrior of the time who cannot be defeated by anyone else on the battlefield in an encounter.

He is thus feeling like the day has finally arrived to “right the wrongs” and bring about the positive transformations in the social order that he has waited for, and he is both strong and confident in his ability to deliver the victory. In this mood he requests Sri Krishna, acting as his charioteer, to position him between the two armies so he can overview the line up on both sides. The reference made is to a “holiday of fight” showing his confidence in the situation.

However, things change radically for Arjuna when he surveys the opposing armies. At that moment he is not being carried away by his ideals, or his grievances. Sri Aurobindo describes the situation: “It is as he gazes that the revelation of the meaning of a civil and domestic war comes home to him, a war in which not only men of the same race, the same nation, the same clan, but those of the same family and household stand upon opposite sides….It is not that he did not know these things before, but he has never realised it all; obsessed by his claims and wrongs and by the principles of his life, the struggle for the right, the duty of the Kshatriya to protect justice and the law and fight and beat down injustice and law-less violence, he has neither thought out deeply nor felt it in his heart at the core of his life. And now it is shown to his vision by the divine charioteer, placed sensationally before his eyes, and comes home to him like a blow delivered at the very centre of his sensational, vital and emotional being.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 3, The Human Disciple, pp. 20-21,